Catholic bishops announce new rules for sexual abuse accusations
© Thinkstock

The U.S. conference of Catholic bishops on Wednesday apologized for the role of bishops in the Roman Catholic Church's ongoing sexual abuse scandal and announced plans for new measures aimed at holding accused priests accountable for sexual misconduct.

Bishops at the conference said Wednesday in a statement to CNN and The Wall Street Journal that the church's failure to hold "predator priests" accountable had caused "great harm" to both the victims and the church itself.


“Some bishops, by their actions or their failures to act, have caused great harm to both individuals and the Church as a whole,” the statement reads, according to news reports.

“They have used their authority and power to manipulate and sexually abuse others. ... For this, we again ask forgiveness from both the Lord and those who have been harmed," the statement continues.

The steps the bishops say they will take in response to a recent Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing hundreds of instances of sexual abuse at the hands of priests over decades in the state include developing a "code of conduct" for priests as well as an outside "third-party" system for reporting sexual abuse.

Other measures taken include the call for a committee to discuss "restrictions on bishops who were removed or resigned because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors or sexual harassment of or misconduct with adults, including seminarians and priests," as well as an investigation into Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and allegations that he covered up abuses in the Catholic Church.

"This is a time of deep examination of conscience for each bishop," the committee said Wednesday, according to CNN. "We cannot content ourselves that our response to sexual assault within the Church has been sufficient."

The committee's meeting follows the August grand jury report, which identified hundreds of so-called predator priests responsible for more than 1,000 instances of sexual abuse, including many cases involving victims who were persuaded to stay silent with their allegations.

Pope Francis and the Catholic Church have yet to formally address the grand jury report with specific reforms, but the pope issued a statement calling the acts outlined in the report "atrocities."

"Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient," the pope wrote in a letter to Catholics last month. "Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated." 

"We showed no care for the little ones," he wrote, "we abandoned them."